Friday, December 27, 2013

A Waste of $90

Anyone who reads this site regularly knows that I would not pay for a buffet that costs $90 for two, but we were invited to one and we went with relatives. I have written of this annual Christmas Eve excursion before but this year the price is higher and the meal was just not good. The restaurant is not a buffet normally. It is a menu restaurant with a catering hall on the side that has been around for many, many years. As a boy I came here with my family to the menu restaurant. My parents when I got older but still at home would come here for special occasions and Christmas Eve. They liked it for Christmas Eve because it had a very festive holiday atmosphere, though even then they would be disappointed in the food. Were I not invited - and understand this is more a command appearance than anything else (though I do enjoy seeing the children) - I would not go there. The restaurant is the Milleridge Inn in Jericho, New York and the buffet is served on several holidays during the year. The buffet is served in the catering building (seen a year ago on an episode of the television show, "Royal Pains", (which films locally) as where the brother's wedding took place.

The restaurant and the buffet was crowded. It surprised me given the cost of the dinner, but around here income (to many - not me) seems irrelevant when it comes to spending money. By accident, we stumbled across the price of this dinner as we were waiting for the people who invited us to arrive, as they were arriving late. Their arriving late had caused a problem for the restaurant. This was the last seating. They called me and asked me to inform the restaurant that they would be there a half hour late. I was told by the hostess that the restaurant closed at 9 and those who were coming late should be told that. OK. About ten minutes later, she came over to me and said she was about to give away all reservations who had not arrived - I looked around and saw no one waiting and empty tables inside now not being filled - and that in a few minutes there would be no reservation for our group unless we sat now - pretty much in their attitude therefore guaranteeing them payment for at least two. We had preferred not to go in without our hosts but if we did not go in then without them, there would be no table for anyone when they arrived. We reluctantly went in and were seated. We did not eat anything or touch anything on the table until they arrived - as it was my intention to walk out the door if the party had not arrived by 8:00 pm and not pay for anything. Anyway, the price - while we  were standing in the lobby next to one of the reception desks and there printed on a paper, not visible to the public, it said $45.00 per adult. Later I learned that children are charged at $19.99 per child, seemingly regardless of age as a three year old at our table who consumed a few spoonfuls of fruit salad and not much else was charged $19.99 as was a 12 year old. On top of this tax and gratuity are added by the restaurant to the bill along with any beverages - soft or hard - that are ordered with the exception of hot coffee or hot tea. So here are four adults and two children with a dinner bill coming to over $220 plus soft drinks charged at bar prices, tax, and tip (tip amount added by the restaurant) - no alcohol ordered. As I overheard, the total was near $300!

For that kind of money I wish the meal had been good. Everything was tasteless. Items were mislabeled. The choices to select from were extremely limited - and most entrees were sweetened in some form or other.

There was an appetizer section of prepared salads - Italian cold cuts, julianned and mixed with Italian dressing, small mozzarella balls with grape tomatoes, pasta salad with seafood - scattered bits of shrimp and tiny scallops, one or two other pasta salads, and shrimp out of the shell on ice with cocktail sauce. Sounds good, but tasteless - every dish out in this section was tasteless. There was a salad of mixed greens with one dressing served on the side of the salad serving bowl.

There was a "kids'" section consisting of cut up hot dogs wrapped in dough, chicken fingers, french fries, and macaroni and cheese. I tried the mac and cheese - tasteless.

The entrees went around two sides, repeated. Salmon in teriyaki sauce, Veal scallopini (which on one side was the label on a second server of the next dish which was) chicken in barbecue sauce with pineapple, beef and broccoli, penne with vodka sauce, mashed potatoes, spaghetti and clam sauce, and steamed vegetables that were swimming deep in butter sauce. There were three carvings - turkey breast, ham, and a roast beef that was presented as if it were something better. It all sounds nice, right? But everything that I took was tasteless - even that which was overly sweet. I guess it had a generic sweet taste. The turkey gravy was thin and seemed to be from a mix. And with each unsatisfying bite, I was thinking what a waste of money. When I went up and asked for roast beef the chef who was carving after putting the meat on my plate, grunted and pointed at me with his carving knife and then pointed the knife at the beef gravy sitting in serving dish next to him and grunted again. How pleasant!

By the time our group was ready for dessert several servers rushed to the table with coffee pots and one had a clear glass water pitcher full of boiling water for tea. As there was only one teabag in the sugar dish, had anymore than one wanted tea, as things were going they would have been out of luck. While we were dining I had heard a number of desserts being offered by servers to tables around us. One dessert to a person - no dessert buffet. When we asked what they had for dessert the selection was down to chocolate mouse cake which the 12 year old told me was overly sweet, coconut cake, and cheesecake.

I have had more enjoyable meals at Old Country Buffet. I have had more enjoyable meals at buffets that are just fair at less than one-fourth the price. For the money spent for an hour and a half dinner for six, the two of us could eat at buffets for about three months two or so times a week. It was such an incredible waste of money. I am not often effected after a buffet meal but as I write this I have been burping some odd tastes for more than an hour and a half now. This is not going to be a very good night.

Well, if you are ever considering this restaurant - menu or holiday buffet - skip it! It is not good, has no value, and is not worth it. And with that, I wish you a Merry Christmas to all - and for those who did not eat here, to all a good night. as we who did dine here are going to be awake most of the night.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

It is Christmas time and that means its time for IKEA's Julbord Smorgasbord!

I have written about these dinners for the past few years. The IKEA stores celebrate the holidays and the summer with a special Swedish buffet dinner in there store restaurants for one night each. There is a Christmas dinner, an Easter dinner, a Midsummer dinner, and a special Crayfish feast dinner in August. I just returned from the  Christmas smorgasbord and it was great as always.

I have often said that a restaurant that does not normally do buffets rarely can pull off a buffet dinner well. The IKEA restaurants (or at least the IKEA restaurant in Hicksville, NY) does an excellent job at converting what is an everyday cafeteria to a buffet, rearranging the dining floor to accommodate two large buffet tables with a dessert and cheese bar to the side and an additional smaller buffet table for breads and meat, plus being able to seat hundreds in two seatings. This IKEA has also added a band and small dance floor and has made the dinner into a real holiday party with song and dance - and for Christmas a presentation of St. Lucia (from who the holiday custom of candles worn in a circle on the head) and a visit from Santa Claus! This non-buffet restaurant does this smorgasbord dinner as if they do it every day. They don't, but you would think that they do - and they do it far more professionally and better than other non-buffet restaurants do when try to have a buffet - and IKEA does it better than some every day buffet restaurants.

The first seating is held from 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm and the second seating is held from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm. Tickets for these dinners must be purchased in advance and they sell out early - months before the day of the dinner. The price is incredible - the regular price is $12.99 all included per adult and $4.99 per child, BUT if you have an IKEA Family Card which is free at kiosks all over the store, the price becomes $9.99 per adult and $2.49 per adult. And the food is good!

We had a great time. The food choices from one season's smorgasbord to the next vary only slightly. Many of the same items will be found at each of the dinners. Some items are substituted with foods for that specific season or holiday and all are traditional Swedish foods. At this Christmas dinner there were a few things that we had not seen for some of the dinners but had had at others, and there were a few new ones added. Here is what was on tonight's buffet -

Three different types of herring - herring in wine, pickled herring, and herring in a cream mustard sauce
Hard boiled eggs with shrimp
Gravad Lax with mustard sauce
Smoked salmon with horseradish sauce
Whole poached salmon
Cucumber salad
Assorted Swedish cheeses
Liverwurst pate
Red Beet salad
Red Cabbage
Mashed potatoes
GRATANG Jansson - shredded potatoes with cheese and herring
Meatballs with lingonberries
Swedish ham served warm with mustard
Prinskov sausages (sauteed) - these ran out early
Crisp bread
Swedish spiced bread (an "S" shaped roll with a cake like taste - tradional to Christmas in Sweden
Swedish Rice pudding
Elderflower cupcakes
Pound cake with lingonberries
Beverages including a bottle of a hops/barley, non-alcoholic Christmas drink on every day per two people and cups of non-alcoholic apple and pear wine and apple and lingonberry wine being poured plus sodas, lingonberry juice, coffee, and tea.

I started with an all fish plate with my second plate consisting of meats and side dishes. Perhaps I should have reversed the order of that as the Prinskov sausages, one of my favorites at these meals, were gone when I went up for the meats. (This has happened only once before.) These sausages must be very popular and perhaps they appeal to the kids because they are close in appearance to small hot dogs with a slightly different flavor. Smoked salmon is expensive. It is rarely found on a buffet and it is even rarer to find it on an inexpensive buffet. Here are unending platters of it in two different types. If you like herring here it is. The poached salmon is especially good - and I usually do not eat cooked salmon (much preferring smoked or raw salmon), but I like this one! The ham was very good. The meatballs are the usual IKEA Swedish meatballs - good. The side dishes are a chance to try some things that unless you are Swedish or Scandinavian you don't often get a chance to have other than in an Scandinavian restaurant. I don't eat liver but have had liverwurst in the long past. I tried the liverwurst pate here and it did not have what I consider the usual overwhelming liver taste that liver dishes have, but was mild and very pleasant. The food was good. The meal was satisfying. I ate too much. My picky eater wife who does not eat fish found enough in the meats, etc. to have a good meal. We both went for desserts and those were good as well.

This meal attracts all types of people from a various cultures. Those who stand out are the Swedes and there are many at these dinners. You can tell because they talk about the foods as being as good as home in Sweden and they with the singing and entertainment, they know the Swedish songs and join in. One thing I judge a culture-based restaurant (and buffet) by are the people of that culture who are dining there, commenting positively on how the food is, and who talk about frequently coming back. I find this at these IKEA buffet dinners with people who are from a family of people from Sweden or who have lived in Sweden. 

These dinners must not be judged by the usual IKEA cafeteria restaurant. With the exception of the meatballs and mashed potatoes, the foods served here are very different from those served in Ikea's day to day restaurant.

The best part aside from the food is that this is a party, especially now with the music added which started at this location at the buffet last summer. The same band was here on this night and they put on a good show. They got the whole room involved in singing, got people up to dance, got a line dance going around the room, and kept the party going right up to 9 o'clock. And the party atmosphere spreads from table to table with people enjoying themselves. There are couples, families. large groups, and singles. There are kids and when Santa came out, were brought up on the dance floor to meet Santa.

The employees who run this dinner and work at it are wonderful too! Everyone has a smile and warmly greets every guest. The people who come from the kitchen to bring out more platters if food do so quickly and seem happy to be there. The people who come and take plates off your table are friendly as well. The manager walks around the dining room stopping more than once at every table to be sure that everyone is happy and getting everything that they like.

During the dinner the tickets for the next dinner go on sale - the next dinner is for Easter on April  11, 2014. We bought our tickets for that dinner - as did many who were there. This is one reason why these tickets sell out so quickly. We bought our tickets for this Christmas dinner last August.

Every IKEA in the US - and perhaps the world - has these dinners and they are held on the same evening/night at each. As I just said, the next dinner is in April for Easter and the tickets can be purchased for that dinner right now at the cash register at the IKEA restaurant. If you would like to have a good smorgasbord for very little money that is also a party, try this. It has only been a few hours since we were there and I am already looking forward to the next IKEA smorgasbord in April!

I will make one last comment with this article. In the past when I have written about IKEA some readers have tried to leave negative comments because of some personal grudge with the store. I will not post those comments. If you have something valid to say that is negative about actually going to one of these dinners as long as it is written fairly, factually, and intelligently, I will post it. Often, though, the comments about IKEA from our readers are very positive. All comments are always moderated on this site.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Golden Corral Adds More Fountains

I have written before about Golden Corral's Chocolate Wonderfall - a chocolate fountain at the center of their dessert bar. Apparently, despite the, perhaps unrealized, drawbacks of melted chocolate fountains, they must feel that this is very popular - they have just added two more similar fountains to their restaurants.

Golden Corral buffets now have THREE "wonderfalls" - fountains - the original chocolate, and now, white chocolate, and sweet caramel. These are grouped together at the dessert bar next to the dip ins that go into the "falls" - fresh strawberries, fresh apple slices, marshmallows, and rice crispy treats squares.

The idea sounds great. It is the application that becomes the problem. A chocolate fountain (as I have written before) needs supervision to make sure that only food which has not been touched goes into the hot liquid which will be consumed back at the dining table. Not been touched means a wood skewer is used to pick up the dip item and that skewer is used to dip the food into the liquid. This usually does not happen. Lots of fingers go into the dip in containers and pick up the food. Lots of fingers that have been in mouths and who knows where else. Then there are the children - and adults - that just put their fingers in for a lick - and then back in for another. And, and for those allergic to anything beware that something you should not eat - even something on the buffet that is not part of the dip ins - most likely has gone into the chocolate, caramel, or white chocolate and has left remnants of itself behind (not including that which falls in and never is recovered until the fountain is cleaned that night. Well, I have said this all before and won't repeat the rant again. I am not sure why this is not a Board of Health violation in just about every state.

I am not sure where they are fitting these two other fountains into some of the Golden Corrals I have been to. There was barely room for the chocolate fountain, much less adding two more into the same space - and fitting in the first took dessert items away that had been in that space. It will be interesting to see on my next trip to Golden Corral what desserts have been removed to accommodate three "wonderfalls".

I like Golden Corral. I consider them currently the top buffet chain. They just don't always make the right decisions on what they bring in as a "feature". This includes the make it to order seafood stir fry which caused long lines that blocked other areas of the buffet - and at some small Golden Corrals, made parts of the buffet inaccessible, and it includes the "chocolate wonderful" which is now three "wonderfalls". 

Friday, November 29, 2013

No Buffet for Thanksgiving This Year

For the past several years we have had Thanksgiving dinner at Old Country Buffet. I know that it appears at times that I don't like OCB, but we have more buffet meals at OCB than any other. The reason is that OCB is the only "American" buffet in this area and any other involves leaving the state.

This year we decided that we would make Thanksgiving dinner at home. There are somethings about a traditional Thanksgiving dinner that you don't get at a buffet - and they don't really have to do with the meal itself. For one, there is the smell of a whole turkey roasting in the oven all morning and until the meal. For another, there are are the turkey and sides leftovers that make for a late night snack on Thanksgiving night and then for meals for days to come. I love turkey - real turkey. By real turkey I mean a whole roasted turkey and not a turkey breast or the turkey-like turkey breasts that some restaurants (and buffets) serve. And then there are the leftover sides and the combinations that they can be put to - along with the turkey of course.

It is not hard to prepare a Thanksgiving dinner just for two and while it takes time and effort the end result is very satisfying. Now, when you are just two, there are somethings that you don't get when you have Thanksgiving at home. One of the things that I like best about OCB on Thanksgiving - particularly one OCB - is being with all of the people dining all around with you. For anyone who is alone, this is something to very seriously consider. At a buffet, you are not dining alone. You are there with many other people - and at a buffet this is much different from a menu restaurant on a holiday. You are up at the buffet with everyone else - interacting and you definitely are not alone. It is not a time to be shy - smile and wish those around you Happy Thanksgiving - and they will do the same back. In a way, it is like being part of a very large family dinner. Many singles do not want to go through all of the effort to cook a complete Thanksgiving dinner for just him/herself, and often find a menu restaurant - especially on a holiday - as isolating as remaining at home. A buffet, however, makes for a completely different experience.

We did look at local ads for restaurants that were serving Thanksgiving dinner as a buffet. These are all either menu restaurants that set up a buffet just for holidays - and when a menu restaurant does this it is generally a disappointment or they are catering halls that cater an open to all Thanksgiving dinner - which one would think would be good as the caterer is in the business of doing large buffet meals but those too are often a disappointment. It takes a buffet restaurant to do a Thanksgiving or any holiday buffet right. As I say, here that is just OCB - and frankly, while we have enjoyed OCB in the past on Thanksgiving - what they are serving is not much different from their usual Sunday dinner menu. The Asian buffets were open but I am a traditionalist and while we have gone to an Asian buffet for Christmas dinner, Thanksgiving really needs a traditional menu (which I realize changes by the cultural background of one's family).

For those in other areas - and that is most of our readers - there are Thanksgiving dinners being served at most of the other buffet chains - and some of those have real whole turkeys being carved - and not just turkey breasts as at OCB. Golden Corral is one and at just $12.99. For those not far from or willing to travel to Lancaster County there is a buffet there that has a very popular Thanksgiving buffet dinner and that is Bird-In-Hand Family Restaurant and Smorgasbord. Their reservations for the several seatings sell out fast in October and early November. There used to be another in Lancaster County, PA that had a wonderful (as I have been told) buffet Thanksgiving Dinner and that was Family Cupboard which sadly this past year went out of business. The most of the other buffets in Lancaster are closed. All of those that I would normally recommend in this area other than Bird-In-Hand are closed.A buffet meal in your area is worth checking out for Thanksgiving!

As I write this, the scent of turkey roasting is wafting through the house. I am going to enjoy this meal, but I will miss the experience of a buffet on this holiday. I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving dinner and those who went to a buffet had a wonderful time! Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Bird-In-Hand Family Restaurant and Smorgasbord, Bird-In-Hand, PA

It has been about a year and a half since I have been to the Bird-In-Hand Family Restaurant and Smorgasbord in Lancaster County in the town of Bird-in-Hand, Pennsylvania. This buffet has not been one of the buffets in this area on my short list of where to go because it has been higher priced and at times has been inconsistent. We were in Pennsylvania recently and we discovered a coupon for $2.00 each off the dinner and decided to go back. As it turns out, the last time that we had been there was on a Wednesday night and this night there was also a Wednesday. 

I was happily surprised to see that the price was only $15.99 and with the coupon it would be $13.99. The dinner smorgasbord price also includes the beverage which brings this meal to within a dollar of what I pay at OCB near home. The $15.99 is two dollars less than what this buffet was a year and a half ago - and I have found in the past that the price here does increase during the summer months. The price now on Friday and Saturday is $18.99.

The buffet menu here changes by the day and each day's menu may be found on the restaurant's website. The weekend buffet adds carvings and also a children's buffet section with "kid food" selections.

What struck me most on this visit - and something that I had not realized before - was that on Wednesday night here (providing they don't change the items offered) you are getting some of the most authentically traditionally cooked Pennsylvania Dutch food found at any of the area's buffets. Every Pennsylvania Dutch dish that I had on this night was just as I remembered it should be in taste, texture, and appearance. Now, all of these same dishes are served at many of the buffets that I have told you about - and they have all been good when I have indicated them as such at those other buffets - but here there were just a bit different - the best way to describe this is "more traditional".

These are all foods that you are most likely not going to find if you are not in this area of Amish and Mennonite Pennsylvania Dutch. I am talking about Chicken Bot Bie, Pork and Sauerkraut, Baked Country Sausage, Ham Balls, Chicken Corn Soup, string beans and ham, and the like. I have described Chicken Bot Bie before. It is a local version of Chicken Pot Pie but there is no pie and it does not have a cream sauce as Chicken Pot Pie has. It is pieced of boiled chicken with potatoes, carrots, and celery with squares of thick dough noodle dumplings in a broth. Often this is served at other local buffets in a thin broth. Here the broth is thick and richly amber in color. The noodles are properly thick and kitchen-made. The taste is exactly as it should be - just as I remember it from so many years ago when I first sampled it in this part of Pennsylvania. The Ham Balls are meatballs made of chopped ham and here are not overly sweet yet still served in the traditional pineapple sauce, but the sauce does not overwhelm the ham. The Pork and Sauerkraut is neither too sour or sweet. This dish is traditionally served on New Year's Day in this area. The Baked Sausage is Country Sausage - not Italian sausage. It is local and is seasoned to the taste of this area. Chicken Corn Soup is served at many restaurants around here but this one is, in my opinion, the best. It is often no more than a thin chicken stock with chicken and corn. Sometimes this soup will include chopped hard boiled eggs. Here this is not a thin soup but a thick soup with plenty of chicken, corn, and hard boiled eggs. I have tried to duplicate this soup at home and have tried various ways of getting it as thick as it is here. It is not a cream soup. The thickness is found in its texture which has slight grain feel to it. I believe that what is thickening this soup is a blended creamed corn. I don't know for sure, but what I do know is that it is exceptional. I could easily make a meal of just this soup alone.

At the end of this meal, I said to my wife that if we want a traditional Pennsylvania Dutch meal we have to come back here on a Wednesday night and she agreed. But these PA Dutch dishes were not all that was served to us on the buffet. I have written about this restaurant's turkey before. It is the best turkey that I have had and I have had a lot of turkey. This is not a carved turkey breast. This is both white and dark meat taken from the bones and placed in the serving tray in a turkey broth. This turkey is tender and juicily moist.  There was also roast beef, Swedish meatballs, sliced ham, and broasted chicken. 

There is a salad bar that has a nice selection of salad items to create a salad. It seemed lacking to me as it had not been in past visits. There were few prepared salads and no longer were there any of the meat salads that I have had here. There is a nice selection of bread and rolls on another server where you will also find a selection of cheeses. There is also apple butter to try with your bread - or put on top of a dollop of cottage cheese from the salad bar - another traditional Pennsylvania Dutch treat.

There is a large dessert bar. There are some cakes and assorted pies, a few prepared desserts including two hot cobblers, cookies, small pieces of whoopie pies (chocolate cake cookies with cream in the middle), and soft serve ice cream. For the size of this dessert bar there should be a lot more. The baking does come from the Bird-in-Hand Bakery which is part of the Bird-in-Hand complex and is good. There is a better variety of dessert selections at other area buffets. That is not to say that you will be disappointed with what you decide to take here.

Service was good. On the off-season, you are dining with local people at this restaurant including Old Order Amish and Mennonites. During the tourist season, the restuarant will be filled with tourists and you may have to wait on line to get in.

We had a great Pennsylvania Dutch meal - as I say - traditionally cooked. Would I be as pleased on another night when there were not as many PA Dutch dishes featured? Maybe not as pleased. The price, however, off-season and with the coupon which is only found in one of the local area tourist papers handed out free at many gift shops and tourist spots - and right at the restaurant in the Lobby before you go in for dinner, can't really be beat, at least on a weeknight. I will go back again if we are in the area on a Wednesday night - and the price remains the same.

As this article will appear right before Thanksgiving, there is Thanksgiving Dinner served both on the Smorgasbord and at your table family-style. Reservations for this, however, are needed months before, as it does sell out.

Bird-in-Hand Family Restaurant is located at 2760 Old Philadelphia Pike, Bird-in-Hand, PA 17505. The phone number is 1-800-665-8780. There is a website located at the side of this page.The restaurant closes at 8:00 pm and is not open on Sundays. You will not be seated for the Smorgasbord after 7:30 pm.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Buffets, Inc. Changes Its Name

During the last week in October, 2013, Buffets, Inc. the parent corporation of Old Country Buffet, Ryans, Country Buffet, Fire Mountain, and Hometown Buffet changed its corporate name to Ovation Brands, Inc. A new logo was unveiled at corporate headquarters in Greer, South Carolina at the same time. The new logo is white and blue showing a plate and spoon.

The company claims that the name was changed to celebrate the company's 30th anniversary and to mark a new phase in its "post-turnaround plans".  Nation's Restaurant News quotes Anthony Wedo, CEO and President of, now, Ovation Brands, Inc. saying "We are a different company now; we are foundationally about continuous innovation. We are passionate about building a new operating culture across all of our brands. The name Ovation Brands represents a call to action for all our teammates and guests: Our goal is to ensure that each and every day our six brands are worthy of applause.”  Wedo also stated that the name change would allow the company to develop non-buffet concepts.

Often when a corporation that has had difficulty changes its name it is to put distance and cut recognition and identity with the former corporate name. In a sense, it is a corporation hiding who they were, but still are. And this name change drops the concept of their, to now, main business out of the corporate name. Gone is the word "Buffets".

As we have reported on this site in the past, Buffets, Inc has gone through two bankruptcies in recent years. Wedo was brought into the company this past December to turn the company around. The most recent bankruptcy ended in June 2012. One of the changes that have been instituted has been to change the interiors of the buffets to become a "Market Street" and this has been completed with the Country Buffets in Denver and they claim this has resulted in a "significant double digit" increase in those locations' sales. (Double digit does not sound very significant to me...) There has also been a new advertising campaign to accompany these newly renovated buffets - "Make it Right". In these ads, Wedo pledges a "commitment to quality food and service". If you have not seen photos of a "Market Street", think Golden Corral which has had this concept in layout for years.

That is quite a pledge considering what many experience in their buffets now. They have a long way to go to quality food and, in particular, quality service. Many of the Old Country Buffets - the largest of the chains - are understaffed and unable to provide quality service even with the best intent. Perhaps the company needs to look at increasing the number of employees at each location and insure that management both trains and constantly supervises their employees, if they are truly serious about quality service. But now Ovations Brands, Inc. has "a call to action" for those of us who dine at their restaurants and the employees who work at them. Is our call to action to continue coming? If that is the case then they have a lot of work ahead of them directly with their "teammates" (employees) to get to work and make the buffets someplace that their guest actually want to go back to. That will be a big job for Mr. Wedo and Ovation Brands, Inc.

Friday, November 08, 2013

An Open Letter to Anthony Wedo, CEO and President of Buffets, Inc.

Dear Mr. Wedo:

A week ago I published an article on this website in review and reaction to your appearance on the television show, Undercover Boss. One could look at why you decided to go on television on this "Reality Show" as either a publicity "stunt" for your restauants or to actually show your sincerity about helping a business that has seen two bankruptcies in managing several chains of restaurants and, at the same time, caring about the quality of restaurant and service those restaurants bring to your customers. I would like to believe that your reason was a little of both, with an emphsis on quality and service to customers, because that is the only reason that will keep your businesses running.

I have been dining at Old Country Buffets, Ryan's, and Fire Mountain restaurants for many years. I have generally had dinner in one of your restaurants at least once every week for the past several years. As we are located in New York on Long Island, there are two Old Country Buffets locally. I dined at one of those Old Country Buffets tonight with my wife. We are just five minutes from the Old Country Buffet in Levittown, New York. We usually drive forty minutes to the Old Country Buffet in Bay Shore, New York. We spend the extra money for gas to make that trip because that location has been far superior to the Levittown location. I have to share that immediately after my last two meals at that Old Country Buffet - a week and a half apart from each other - I had food poisoning. We decided that we would not go back there for a while and despite the long standing problems at the Levittown, New York Old Country Buffet we would try that location again, the next time that we would go to an Old Country Buffet.

You went undercover to four restaurants in your chain for a day each. Everyone of your customers is going undercover to your restaurants every day. Actually, I was amazed that you only encountered one problem employee and less than satisfactory conditions at only one of the buffets that you visited undercover. I only wish that I had the clout of a corporate executive at Buffets, Inc. to react to what took place at the Levittown Old Country Buffet tonight. My readers know that I have said several times in the past that I would not go back to the Levittown OCB because of what goes on there, but every so often I decide to go back and give it another try and see if there maybe has been an improvement. Less than five minutes of coming through the door and paying for our dinners tonight, I was regretting having come back.

We were at the buffet on a Sunday evening for dinner.  The dining room was crowded and we sat ourselves - as the sign indicated. There were two tables for four open next to each other in the center of the dining room closest to the buffet. One of those tables was covered in dirty dishes. The other table at first glance looked like it had been cleaned and prepared for the next guest - at least there were no dirty dishes or glasses on it. As we were about to sit down, we saw that the table was covered in grease and sticky dried food. My wife said that we should not sit there and looked for another table. There were none - other than tables for six and we did not want to take up such a large table for just the two of us. We looked for an employee to clean the table that we had first found. There was no one around. We looked across the dining room and saw no one to speak with to ask to have the table cleaned. At this point, I suggested to my wife that we take the dinner ticket and receipt, return to the cashier, and ask for our money back and leave.  My wife was about to agree and then suggested that we could wash the table ourselves if we brought napkins up to the water spigot at the soda area. That was what we did - we washed the table ourselves - as best as we could. The table still was not clean. We looked around at the surrounding tables and saw that no one had been around for quite some time to remove dirty dishes from the tables and on each table dishes were stacking up in piles. I wondered then what you would have done had you been there "undercover". We went up to the buffet to start our meal.

We went over to get a cup of the soup. The soup tureen in the steam table with the chicken noodle soup was empty and floating up and out of its place. The corn chowder was half full but did not look very appetizing. We decided to move on to the entrees and have soup later in the meal. We went then to get utensils.

There are four areas at the end of buffet servers in this OCB where there are utensils. The first one that we came to was completely empty. The next was also empty. The  same with the third, and the fourth was mostly empty with a few forks, knives, and teaspoons still there. Before going any further, I looked at what was out on the buffet to eat. The roast beef was blood red and nearly raw. The turkey was gone. The ham was there. The steak - which here is cooked in the kitchen and brought out to the steam table where it is set under a cover to continue to cook to more than well done, was running out. There was fried chicken, baked chicken, baby back ribs (which I have liked but may have been the source of my illness on my last two visits to the "other" OCB so I was avoiding those), and there were fried shrimp which resembled tiny, hard, dark brown balls. Again, I was regretting having walked through the door to this OCB and again suggested to my wife that we leave before taking anything. She now was inclined to go but said, "let's just deal with what there is." She also asked why did I expect this dinner at the Levittown OCB to be any different from all of the other nights that we had been here in the past. She was surprised when I said that I had hoped that it would have improved. We stayed.

She was not quite feeling that we made the right choice to remain, though, when she then spotted a woman manager and went over to ask politely if more chicken noodle soup was coming out and if more silverware was coming from the dishwasher. The  manager responded to my wife with an attitude of why are you bothering me. Her snapped answers with a scowl on her face were "There is plenty of silverware out!", pointing to the few utensils left at the end of the buffet server - and - "It will be more than 20 minutes before that soup comes out!" Then she turned her back and walked away. Somehow my wife had expected a much different answer and attitude - maybe something like this, said with a smile: "I'm sorry. There is soup cooking right now in the kitchen and we will get it out as soon as it is ready - though that may take about twenty minutes. And we will have more silverware out right away - thank you for letting us know!" But no, that did not happen. My wife was to blame for asking for soup and utensils. Sorry that we bothered you, Ms. Manager!

As it turned out more utensils never did come out the entire night, and the soup actually did come out about fifteen minutes later - the chicken soup that was brought out consisted of nearly raw and raw celery and carrots, a few noodles, no sign of actual chicken, all in boiling water that had a hint of chicken flavor.

We took food from the buffet and by doing that we made a commitment with that to stay - and we did stay. We don't overfill plates of food. We both take a portion of one entree and side dishes, and when that has been eaten go back for more. As a result we have plates for each course that in most buffets will be taken away as soon as we are finished with them. There was still no sign of anyone working in the dining room where we were sitting and as a result our plates were stacking up on the table as were the plates on the tables of other guests dining in this area. Almost a half hour into the meal a young man made an appearance in the cleaning area at the side of the dining room. He went over with a wet cloth to clean a table, ignoring all of the tables with guests and their piled dishes. The people about to sit at that table after he "washed" it down told him that it was still dirty. He said that it wasn't and wiped once more with the dirty dishcloth. They reluctantly sat down. He then disappeared again. Every so often he would make another appearance. I decided that I would wait to see how long it would take him to come over to us with our dishes piling higher and higher. When he did come to our table finally, he smiled and asked us how we were. I could not resist making the comment, "Well, you finally decided to come out of hiding and come over to us." He laughed at that. I was was not laughing. He was about to walk away when he asked if there was anything that he could get us - I pointed to the empty napkin dispenser on the table - the last few napkins in it having been used by us to wash the table - and told him that we needed it filled please. It was obvious that it was empty. "Oh," he said, "is it empty? I can fill it for you." He went off and came back with more napkins. We did not see him again for some time.

While he was not paying any attention to the tops of the tables all around - some with people at them and dishes still left untouched by him right up until the people left - he was not paying any attention - nor was any other employee to the carpeted floors that were piled with dirt and food under each table and in the aisles. Of course, people drop things, but at most buffets, someone comes over with a dust pan or floor sweeper and try to pick up what can be picked up before the table fills again. This never happens at the Levittown Old Country Buffet. The floors are never clean. I have heard comments here of "disgusting". And that, among other reasons is why we travel to the other Old Country Buffet which generally has been cleaner. The employees here are another reason that we go there. Our table server here being one example.

We went up to the carving area - which here is just the end of one of the steam tables. The woman that was carving - if she spoke English - was seemingly going out of her way to pretend she didn't. I suspect that she didn't speak English - which is fine for those customers who speak Spanish, but the number here that don't were having to point for her to get what they wanted. As she cut a small slice of steak, I recalled that really nice steak that you served the woman on the television show - how it was cooked as she asked for it - and how you were concerned that it was right. I have never been in an Old Country Buffet like that. I have had that happen in a Ryans - one in particular in Virginia - where the grill chef out on grill made sure the steak was cooked just as I asked for it and even brought it over to my table when it was done. That is the exception - not the rule - and I don't expect anyone to bring anything to me at my table - that was just an added nicety which has happened at that one Virginia Ryans more than once. It has never happened at an Old Country Buffet and with the usual language barrier of the employees who most need to understand what each customer is asking for - it is not going to happen when you have to point and even then maybe (or maybe not) get what you would like.

This is a location that you need to go undercover to. Come on a weeknight or a weekend night. What you will find will be just what I have described here. On this night they did not run out of any items - though that is common at this location and if, for example, an entree runs out, it is not replaced with an entree dish - it is often replaced with another tray of rolls. On one night here in the past there were three trays of rolls on the buffet where entrees had been earlier. Of all of the buffets that I have dined in, and those amount to many, many, many buffets, this ranks as one of the worst - and is certainly the worst of the many Buffets, Inc. buffets that I have been to in a number of states.

As we were completing the meal, still with dirty dishes piled on our table as well as other guest's tables around us, we were discussing our experience during this meal. As we are talking I am watching a little boy around four years old walking around the buffet table with a plate in his hand and a spoon in his mouth who is putting the spoon down on the food trays and then back into his mouth. No adults are around. My wife asks what I am watching and I tell her a little boy at the buffet server. She asks if it is, as she put it, "the plate licker". With that, it was time to leave, regretting that we had come. I always tip at a buffet. I did not leave a tip on this night. I looked at other tables - no one else left this guy a tip, and rightly so, as he did nothing to earn the money that you were paying him, much less get a tip.

Sir, you need to know what goes on in your restaurants. That will not happen if the boss or any of the "suits" walk through the door. When that happens everything is always good. No, you were on the right track with being "undercover" but not with cameras following you.

Is every one of your restaurants and employees like this? Absolutely not. But more than you realize are. So I got to go "undercover" on this night as a customer. Every meal that I have at a buffet I am undercover.  I am writing to you here - openly for all of my readers - and there are thousands of readers - to let you know what I observed "undercover". While there, I was looking for the changes that you spoke about on television that were to come. There has been no change in the frustrating cash register experience. The same register and the same charge card machine are there as they always have had. There was certainly no sign of the old favorite food items that have been taken away in the past several years that you said you were bringing back. And most importantly there has been no change, at least here, in attitude by management or employees.

I admit that the consolation to this meal was that afterward, I did not get ill as I did on my last two occasions to dine at an OCB. And that was the only good thing about the night. Will I go back to Levittown OCB? No. I may go back to Bay Shore though I do so with trepidation - though I have had hundreds meals there including Thanksgiving dinner in the past four years that I felt perfectly fine afterward. But when the best buffet manager that we have ever encountered was fired from there about a year and a half ago (one who cared, ran a tight ship, and welcomed every guest as if he were welcoming you to dinner at his home), things have definitely gone down hill there as well, but that is another letter that I have yet to write. There is an email address in the column on the right at which I can be reached if you wish to respond privately and perhaps that will legitimatize who is responding through the return email address. I suspect some will try to respond with comments posing as you that will not really be you - and those will not be published.

Thank you for your time and consideration!


Art of the Buffet

Friday, November 01, 2013

The Boss of Buffets, Inc. Goes Undercover To Find Out What We Already Knew

A week before the airing of the CBS television show, Undercover Boss, on which Anthony Wedo, CEO and President of Buffets, Inc. corporate owners of Old Country Buffet, Ryans, Hometown Buffet and Country Buffet, we told you here that this show was coming. This is a reality show in which a boss of a corporation is disguised and put into the retail outlets of his own company to discover first hand what goes on. While the boss is "working" in his store he is, of course, followed around with a camera crew which gives the people working in the store an idea that this is not just another new hire. For Buffets, Inc.'s boss the story was that he was on a reality show that would win him a opportunity to start his own business. The disguise picked for Wedo was a long, blond hair wig tied into a ponytail and a glued on mustache. On the show he visited four restaurants around the US including Ryans and an Old Country Buffet. At each those four restaurants he takes on a different job at each location.

Let's start with the disguise. If anyone knew what the man looked like and that was unlikely to start with, they certainly would not have recognized him in his long hair and mustache, but I wonder if that choice of disguise did not set some of the people that he encountered off, particularly in his role as "manager" for a day in the first location. It was here that he encountered a very unhappy employee and it seemed that part of that employee's attitude toward him was the long hair. But to be fair, this employee should have been fired on the spot and given someone a job that would have been much better appreciated. What took place at that restaurant was actually far more the norm at some Old Country Buffets that I have been to where employees are unhappy with their jobs and their job performance shows it. Here Wedo encountered it as a manager put into the dishwashing area to learn how that job is done. We have encountered this attitude from employees in the dining room with the customers and also sometimes that same attitude has come from managers. On the show this took place in a Ryans. At this Ryans he not only encountered this very angry employee but also a burned out manager - one of three at this location. The manager seemed aware of the problems and was very sincere but when confronted by Wedo (who actually broke cover with the manager because of the attitude of the dishwasher) on the attidude of his employee, the lack of training of the employee, and the level of problems that Wedo was observing, the manager shrugged his shoulders and basically admitted that while he, himself, tries to do what is right, the other two (unseen) managers at this location did not really care what went on. It sounded as if anything that he could do correctly, the other two undermined to the negative. Managers that don't care? Welcome to Old Country Buffet! For that matter, so many former employees at all levels from dishwashers to managers who were fired during the mass closings of buffet locations will tell you that those up on top at Buffets, Inc. don't care. This was not the impression that Wedo was giving on the show. I will let those employees respond with comments with their feelings about that. Anyway, not to get off on that - it was a surprise to Anthony Wedo that employees would act this way, that managers did not properly train, and that a good manager can get so frustrated that no matter how much he wants to, without cooperation from the other management team, the result at the restauant is not positive. This manager reminded me of another manager that I have written about in the past from an Old Country Buffet - the man I called "Mr. Smilely". Mr. Smiley was the best manager that I ever encountered at an Old Country Buffet. Perhaps the best manager at any buffet. He welcomed his customers as if he was welcoming them to his home for dinner - and his employees not only were well trained but when he was present, everyone snapped to. Mr. Smiley was fired - cause unstated when I inquired of employees, but the hint given was that it was not something that he did wrong. In the year or so since Mr. Smilely has been gone, the restaurant location has gone way down hill - and some of the employees now are much like the angry dishwasher that Mr. Wedo met on the show, but they are not in the back where they can't be seen or heard. They are out at the buffet and in the dining room.

He went to three other restaurants and at one he was a grill chef, at another a cashier, and at another a general dining room worker. At each he was teamed with the employee that regularly does that job. And everyone of those employees were exceptional. And I have met my share of exceptional employees at Old Country Buffets and Ryans. At an Old Country Buffet he was put on the grill to cook steaks and learn to cook stir fry. I have heard that there are Old Country Buffet locations where the steaks are cooked right out there in the dining room on a grill at the carving counter - just like is done at Ryans. I have never been to one. It was surprising to see him concerned that the steak be cooked exactly as the customer ordered it. At every Old Country Buffet that I have ever been to, the steaks are cooked on a grill in the kitchen, brought out in a tray to the carving area and put into the steam table under a lid where they continue to cook until they are inedible and overdone and no longer chewable. I have asked for a steak that is less done, possibly pink or even red in the center, and the reaction of the employee at the carving station has been a laugh. "This is how they are", is what I have been told on so many occasions. "The steaks are always cooked this way", I was told several times. I love steak. I no longer bother with it at Old Country Buffet. Ryans is a different story as the steaks are cooked right there in front of you and only once was I given a steak at Ryans that was not the way I wanted it - and so many times the person cooking told me that as soon as it was done the way I wanted it, it would be brought to me at my table. That is how it should always be. And the size of the steaks Wedo was serving. I have never had a whole steak at any OCB or Ryans - it is always a piece of a steak and while that piece at Ryans is generally decent, at OCB it has always been about one to two inches of steak with one steak divided for about ten customers.  Maybe Mr. Wedo should come to the Old Country Buffet's in New York undercover...

What took place at the cash register was a big surprise to Mr. Wedo. I have to wonder how a man who claims to visit locations all of the time as himself, never knew before this show that the charge card system that they have is the worst. He got stuck in the middle of a sale for the charge card machine to process a sale- and he and the customer waited and waited. This has happened to us at OCB many times. Sometimes at both registers at the same time and sometimes with the sale being abandoned after a ten minute wait at one register and the same thing happening when the dinners were then rung up on the adjacent register and charge machine. The boss claims that this will now be changed and that an entirely new system will be put into all of the buffets. I will see when I go back. It has been several weeks since I have been to an OCB and I will not say why that is - though it was not pleasant.

The cashier, the general employee, and the grill chef, as I say, were the exceptional employees - and they really were - and each had a sad story to tell, which is typical of the Undercover Boss show - and at the end of the show - as is also typical of the Undercover Boss show they are rewarded by the Boss - we are supposed to believe that the Boss's company is giving these rewards. I truly hope that it is CBS and the show that is giving the amount of money that is given to these good employees because on this show the rewards totaled several hundred thousand dollars amongst the three rewarded employees.  This is the company - Buffets, Inc. - coming out of bankruptcy with all of those employees put out of work in the last few years. The amount of money given away by the Boss on this show, could have fed a lot of other good employees and their families but just letting them keep their jobs and nothing more.

Mr. Wedo did not have to go on Undercover Boss to find out what is right or wrong about his companies restaurants. All he had to do was come and read the articles here and go out and talk to the people who like and don't like his restaurants. I understand that there are some opinions that must be dismissed. The OCB Facebook page is full of them - "I hate your food and how come I don't get eat free coupons anymore!" But there are a lot of comments with a lot of truth - and the response when there is a response from the company is call us and tell us your complaint - and we will have the manager call you - well usually the problem originated with the manager so even I don't bother with that route any longer.  As I say, he needs to go undercover more often - and without a camera crew. Maybe if all of the locations were visited by a corporate executive undercover, the restaurants would suddenly get cleaner, the food would be better, and all of the employees would have a better attitude.

Some of my readers feel that I don't like Old Country Buffet but actually that is not true. In fact, I have eaten more Old Country Buffet meals than buffet meals at any other buffet restaurant and I have been to Buffets, Inc's buffets all over the East Coast. As I have written many times, I have been to some exceptional Ryans. I have been to some good Old Country Buffets. I have also been to some very bad Old Country Buffets, Ryans, and Fire Mountains. Where there is a visible and involved manager the restaurant has always been better than when there is no sign of a manager (despite Mr. Wedo's claim on the show that the manager is always in the dining room talking with the guests) the experience at the buffet that night is rarely positive.  No, I don't dislike OCB in general - but I have expectations that OCB rather too often does not meet. Cleanliness is just one. And for goodness sake- one employee cannot do six jobs at the same time. This is a general problem at OCB. You can't expect the person at the carvings to go around and refill trays and go over to the stir fry grill, and more because while he/she is taking care of X then Y and Z are not being done. This is just Business 101.   Oh, and Mr. Wedo on the show acknowledged that customers miss the so many regular food items that have been taken away over the years and that they will be brought back. I agree that this is a consistent complaint - remember those beef ribs, chicken parm, etc, etc. - and they need to be brought back - because right now just about every night at the buffet is the same and there are just so many ways that one can cut up a pork roast and call it some type of ribs.

The show can be viewed if you missed it on on the Undercover Boss page and at the moment the link is featured on the webpages of all of the Buffets, Inc. restaurants.  If you have not seen it, see it. It will make some happy to watch and some very mad (I say this because I have already heard from former employees who were not happy watching all of that money given away when they are out of work.)

Come back next week to read my Open Letter to Anthony Wedo, CEO and President of Buffets, Inc..

Friday, October 25, 2013

Oregon Dairy Country Restaurant and Buffet, Lititz, Pennsylvania

It has been five years since I have been to the Oregon Dairy Country Restaurant and Buffet in Lititz, PA. I am not sure why it has taken me this long to go back - other than perhaps the other buffets in this area that always come to mind first. This is a nice, small buffet that is just off the main tourist area in Lancaster County and one that like some other buffets in this area is located within a supermarket complex.

This buffet is located in the back of a menu restaurant that is in its own section of a building that is a supermarket. You can enter the restaurant from the supermarket or from its own door from the large parking lot. Adjacent to the restaurant and separate from the supermarket is an ice cream stand serving a large variety of fresh ice cream flavors made right there at the dairy. A scoop of this ice cream is available as a selection on the dessert offerings with the buffet meal.

We had intended to go to this buffet a few months back but just never got there. When we were back in the area, I was sure to make this one of the several buffets we had dinner at and I am very glad I did, as it reminded me that this is a buffet that should be visited more often. Selections for lunch and dinner on the buffet are partially listed on a menu download on the restaurant's website (linked at the side of this page). That menu does not include all that you will find on the buffet when you get there - which was a pleasant surprise. As you will see if you look at the buffet menu on the website, the dishes served rotate by night with some repeats.

On the night that we were there we found two soups - kale soup and New England Clam Chowder. The clam chowder was good. I did not try the kale soup and that is an unusual soup not usually found at a buffet. They have a large salad bar and one can just order the salad and soup bar for a meal. One can also just order the dessert bar. The salad bar as a variety of local prepared salads and also lettuce and the makings for a good salad. This buffet is in, of course, the Pennsylvania Dutch Country and much of what is on the buffet (but not all) are Pennsylvania Dutch foods. There was Chicken Bot Bie - a chicken stew with broad dough noodle squares that I have spoken about many times here on this site at PA Dutch buffets. This one was good. There was smoked sausage which is not particularly PA Dutch but here at the Oregon Dairy restaurant it is prepared in a different way and is a specialty item on the menu. It is fried - deep fried - so at first bite it seems overcooked but it is quite tasty and crispy. I have had smoked sausage served in a variety of ways - this is the only place that I have had it like this. The smoked sausage is a regular item on their menu but is not always found on the buffet. There were ham balls, another PA Dutch food item that is made from ground ham made like meatballs and traditionally served cooked in pineapple sauce. These are sweet and good. There was Pork and Kraut - pieces of pork cooked in sauerkraut - another PA Dutch food item and was also good here. There were two types of chicken - seasoned chicken and also barbecue chicken breasts. There was no fried chicken - which on a PA Dutch buffet is unusual not to find. There was stuffed cabbage. There was also fried shrimp and broiled Talapia. Of course there were side dishes as well including mashed potatoes, carrots, corn, macaroni and cheese, Pa Dutch potato filling (stuffing made with potatoes), and stewed tomatoes.

The meal was good and while the selection does not compare with some buffets in this area, it was more than enough and certainly it was local in variety. When you come to restaurants in this area - buffet or not - you are coming for local foods and recipes. This is what you are finding here.

Desserts included a variety of puddings and prepared desserts, a selection of cake slices and pies, warm cobbler, fresh fruit, jello, and a scoop (just one) of the Oregon Dairy's selection of 20 plus flavors of ice cream made at the dairy on the premises. In fact, the server goes into the ice cream stand to get the ice cream for you. There is a flavor of the month and then there are the flavors that are always on the menu and there are some unusual flavors among these. I decided on the  ice cream. It was rich and creamy.

The price of dinner was very reasonable. Since prices tend to change lately, I am not going to quote the price but it was well within just about ANYONE's budget. The soft drinks are additional and include refills.

Our server was a young woman in training and she was very good. She was attentive. The dishes were cleared off the table and the drinks were refilled.

The decor is pleasant and typical of restaurants in this area. It is not overly fancy but it is what you would expect a family restaurant to look like. It was clean and the restrooms were also clean and well maintained. Also, there is no problem if someone at your table decides to order from the menu while others are ordering the buffet.

There is a breakfast buffet, a lunch buffet, and a dinner buffet. The restaurant is open seven days a week (until 2 pm on Sundays) BUT the buffet is only served Monday to Saturday. There is NO BUFFET ON SUNDAYS except breakfast buffet. The restaurant closes at 8:00 pm and this does not mean seating until 8:00 pm. The buffet is taken down at that time and they let you know that if there is anything else that you would like, you need to go up and get it right then. (They do this politely.)

I plan to go back more often. With so many buffets here to choose from this is hard when you are only in the area for a few days, but this is now "on the list" to go to. I recommend that you try it. Download the menu from the website and you will have some idea of what dishes to expect to find on the night that you decide to go.

The Oregon Dairy Country Restaurant and Buffet is located at 2900 Oregon Pike (Route 272) in Lititz, PA 17543. The phone number is (717) 661-6804. There is a website and that is listed on this page at the side of the articles.While this is the town of Lititz it is not near the center of what is thought of as the town of Lititz (where the old pretzel bakery and the Moravian settlement is located). It is also on the top of a hill with a large up hill driveway from Route 272. As you get up into the parking lot the restaurant is on the left, the supermarket part of the building is on the right, and the dairy/ice cream stand is on the far left. There is a little playground and "park" near the ice cream stand.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Refresher on the Rules of the Buffet

The more buffets that I go to the more I wish the restaurants would post our Rules of the Buffet. Here they are once again for all of our readers to take note of and remember.  Recently #28 seems to be one that many need to know about...


1. All you can eat is not a challenge. It is an offer!

2. There is no limit to the number of times that you can go up and get food.

3. Take your food in courses - as you would be served if ordering from a menu.

4. Everyone must pay!

5. No food is permitted to be taken out of the restaurant.

6. Take only what you will eat - do not waste food.

7. For a more social meal, it is polite to wait for the others at the table to finish their plates and then go up together to get more.

8. Take a clean plate every time that you go up to the buffet tables.

9. If you put it on your plate, leave it there. Never return food to the serving tray.

10. Never eat at the buffet tables!

11. Children under 12 should not be going up to the buffet tables alone.

12. The buffet table is not a cafeteria line.

13. Tip the server.

14. Never take a serving piece from one item and use it for another item.

15. Never place your dirty plates on someone else's table.

16. Never use your silverware to serve yourself from the buffet trays.

17. Once you have gotten what you want, don't stand around the buffet tables. Move on back to your table.

18. Children should remain seated through the meal.

19. Do not fill community plates for the "table". Each should take their own plate of what they wish to eat.

20. If you cough or sneeze into your hand, please do not use that hand to pick up the serving utensils.

21. In the buffet, as in any restaurant, children (and adults) should use their inside voices.

22. Don't talk on your cell phone while you are getting your food at the buffet tables.

23. Never bring an animal into the buffet. (this is not referring to medical guide dogs)

24. Never put your hands into a serving tray.

25. Tell your children not to put their hands into a serving tray - and make sure that they do not!

26. Do not carry on a conversation throughout dinner with the people at the tables around you.

27. Do not put anything back into a serving tray that has dropped onto the serving counter - and never put anything back into a serving tray (whether from the counter or your dish) with your fingers.

28. Never put the serving utensil, whether it a spoon, fork, or tongs, up to your nose to smell the food that you have taken out of the serving tray.

29. Do not eat while walking with your plate back to your table.

If you take a plate, bowl, cup, or piece of silverware and you decide you don't want it, do not put it back on the stack of clean dishes or back with the clean silverware. Take it back to your table or put it on the side of the stack where it will not be taken as clean.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Undercover Boss at Buffets Inc. Restaurants Next Week!

The television show Undercover Boss found on CBS network stations sends companies' top executives into their business location to learn first hand what it is like to work for them and work in their businesses.  This show will have the boss from Buffets Inc. out in the restaurants undercover on Friday, October 18, 2013. The show will be on from 8:00 pm to 9:00 pm.  Buffets Inc. is the parent company of Old Country Buffet, Ryans, and Hometown Buffet.  The restaurants visited for the filming of the show will not be known until the airing of the show.

An inside anonymous source shares that changes in the restaurants have already been ordered as a result of this show.Perhaps he has now seen what many of us have known as customers all along.

This article has been posted one week in advance of the airing of the show to give our readers an opportunity to see this show. This show may also be seen on CBS on demand after it airs on cable providers and also on the internet on the website.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Return to a KFC Buffet

There are not many KFC buffets  - Kentucky Fried Chicken. These are KFC eat in and take out restaurants that in addition to the regular take out/eat in menu on the wall, offer a buffet at the front counter of select KFC items. These KFC restaurants will say "Buffet" on the sign in front of the restaurant. If it does not say "buffet" there is no buffet inside - and that is the majority of KFC locations. KFC will now identify KFC buffets on their restaurant location page of their website IF you check the "BUFFET" box on the location locator, but no where else on KFC's website is buffet mentioned. Here is the website for the chain. The buffet is served only from 4 pm to 8 pm, 7 days a week. The restaurants are open past 8, but the buffet will be closed down - and when it was being closed down one of the employees came over to us to inform us that it was about to be and if we wanted more we had to go up then to get it.

We went for the first time a year ago and were in that location again - Williamsburg, Virginia - and decided to go back. The food was good but the selection was not as good as it had been a year ago.

The buffet includes all you care to eat from the buffet counter and an unlimited refill soda or ice tea. The buffet is one price and you you are given a cup and one large and one small foam plate when you pay at the counter. When you are ready to go back for more, you go up to the counter at the registers and ask for another plate. If there is a line at the register you wait at the side and hope to be noticed or make yourself politely known and you are given the plate.

On the buffet this year there was fried chicken - original recipe and extra crispy, mashed potatoes, green beans and an assortment of other vegetables, macaroni and cheese, stewed tomatoes, a sweet potato casserole, rolls, potato salad, macaroni salad, cole slaw, pickles, hot pickled peppers, more side dishes and desserts that included banana pudding, jello, and other puddings.  Missing from the buffet this time was the chicken and biscuits (chicken pot pie) that is still on the menu board but now, not on the buffet. None of the grilled chicken or new boneless chicken was on the buffet, however, when we were on the line first going up to the register a man in front of us ordered the buffet and asked to have the grilled chicken that was not on the buffet. He was handed a plate full of grilled chicken - at least four pieces. So if you ask, it MAY BE possible to get something not on the buffet that they have on the menu.

On this visit, all of the pieces of chicken regardless of crispy or original were chicken breasts. You can't really complain about that unless you like drumsticks and thighs. We do. At the end of our visit which was almost the time the buffet was to be shut down, some chicken thighs appeared mixed in.  I would have liked to have taken a variety of chicken pieces just to vary the meal, especially as the chicken and biscuit dish was not there and fried chicken breasts were the only meat to be had.

This is KFC food. It is just the same food that is coming from the kitchen behind the counter and going into the buckets and orders that everyone else is getting. If you don't like KFC food then you will not like eating at a KFC buffet. We don't regularly go to KFCs to eat but we both like the food and the buffet is well worth the price - I am not going to say the price as it will vary by location but it is well under $10, includes the drink, and is cheaper than ordering off the menu board for a combination of some items that are on the buffet, even if you were just taking a one portion size and no more.

We certainly had all we wanted and we were very satisfied after the meal. I will definitely go back. And as it was different this time from last, it may be different again next time.

The KFC Buffet that we went to is located at 1545 Richmond Road, Williamsburg, VA 23185. Their phone number is(757) 229 - 7212.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Old Country Buffet, Ryans, Etc. Updates

Have you been to an Old Country Buffet or Ryans lately and noticed the absence of the Stir Fry station? This is now gone from the Buffets Inc. owned buffets after some locations went through construction to install a permanent station for what was to be a regular offering at the restaurants. An anonymous, inside source at Buffets Inc. tells me that this is only temporary and has been done due to poor overall earnings in the past quarter.  It was implied that cutting out the stir fry would save on employee salaries and other expenses related to the stir fry area. An email survey sent out to some OCB customers on their email list makes me suspect that they have other plans.

The survey asked about having breakfast omelets available all day. These would include a variety of omelets  containing your choice of a number of ingredients. To further enforce that this is likely going to happen, at a local OCB where a special area was constructed - taking away already limited table space - for the stir fry. That sign above that is now gone and a sign for omelets has taken its place. I am sure that area has been used all along since its installation for omelets for the breakfast buffet but suddenly this very large sign was put up over it. An earlier similar survey had asked about baby back ribs and those made an every night dinner appearance on the buffet several weeks later.

I am, frankly, not surprised that the Stir Fry is gone. It was very dependent on the skills of the people cooking at it, and that there was actually someone assigned there - and not that someone wandered over eventually when someone came up to the grill which I observed at several OCBs. The other problem was the ingredients. While the chicken was passable, the beef always looked like dried out scraps of left over roast beef and more than once I heard people ask with a face, "What is that?" pointing at the beef in the tray behind the counter. It was quite unappetizing in appearance.

So far, no omelets yet. But I suspect that you will be seeing them soon at an OCB, Hometown Buffet, or Ryans near you.  Will I try one? It will depend upon how they are being cooked and what the ingredients look like. I have not been to an OCB for breakfast so I do not know how the omelets are made. If they are cracking fresh eggs then I will try one. If they are pouring an egg mixture from a pitcher, then no, I will stay clear.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Baby Back Ribs Seem to be Everywhere

Several buffets this summer have featured baby back ribs. This is unusual. I have not seen baby back ribs at a buffet in a number of years. What are baby back ribs? These are pork ribs that are taken from the top of the rib cage from market weight but young hogs. These are not taken from adult hogs. There is meat between the bones and on top.

I summer I have tried baby back ribs at Shady Maple Smorgasbord in East Earle, PA, several Golden Corrals, Ryans, Old Country Buffet, and while they were not labeled "baby back ribs" but just "ribs" at Dutch-Way Family Restaurant in Gap, PA. Some were very good, some were OK and some were not so good at all.

I will start with what I consider the best and this I am sure is going to surprise many of you with this coming from me. The best have been at Old Country Buffet. These have been consistently good over several visits. The sauce is not too sweet and not overly applied. Additional sauce is available on the condiments counter. The meat was tender and has fallen completely off the bones. There was sufficient meat on each rib but not so much meat that it was no longer like a rib but a chunk of pork with a bone. These ribs kept me going back for more with little interest in any other entree on the buffet. The baby back ribs were a summer special feature every night and by the time you read this article they may no longer exist - at least for this year - at Old Country Buffets - or maybe not and they are still being served.

The second best were at Dutch-Family Restaurant in Gap, PA where they were on the buffet on two different visits on different nights. At Dutch-Way the menu changes nightly and you may go in and find or not find ribs. At Dutch-Way the ribs, as I said above, were just labeled "Ribs" and not baby back ribs but the size, bone, and meat were consistent with what baby backs are. Here the sauce is a tomato based sauce that is barbecue sauce but more like tomato sauce. It is not overly sweet and it was good. The pork was tender and also fell off the bone. Had OCB not come out with their ribs mid-summer, these would top the list. With Dutch-Way there is a good chance that you will find these ribs showing up on the buffet throughout the year, but do not expect them to be there on any particular night.

One would think that since Ryans is owned by Buffets, Inc. as OCB is, that the baby back ribs there would be the same as at OCB, but on the two occasions on different nights that I tried them at Ryans they were not as good. This may be the fault of the particular Ryans, though as Ryans Buffets go this particular location is pretty good. The sauce here was sweeter. The meat was drier and the ribs were over done.

The baby back ribs at Shady Maple Smorgasbord were as feature on the Fourth of July dinner buffet and having been back several times for dinner over the summer I did not see them again. These baby back ribs had the most meat on them and that was the problem. These were like eating a chunk of pork with a bone in it. Eventually, the bone did come away from the meat. The sauce was OK but sweet. I was thrilled to see this on the buffet but was disappointed when I got them. They were served from the grill. It is odd to complain about too much meat, but that is what I found as fault with these ribs.

The worst of the baby back ribs were the ones at Golden Corral and I tried them at four different Golden Corral restaurants. These ribs from restaurant to restaurant were consistently dry and overcooked to the point of crunchy where you could not tell if you were biting into meat or bone and when what came away was just as indistinguishable - burnt meat or burnt bone - neither of which was easily chewed or swallowed.  The baby back ribs were part of a summer feature of hot wings and baby back ribs. At one of the Golden Corrals they were being carved from the rack at the grill. At the others they were out on the buffet next to the grill in a tray. It did not matter how they were served. They were not good.

I am hoping that Old Country Buffet keeps the baby back ribs on the dinner buffet for a while longer - maybe even making them a regular on one particular night or more. OCB has served other ribs but these have always been like a pork roast sliced and served as ribs. What they call Country Ribs are not ribs at all and are hard to distinguish from what they just serve as pork. Those and the honey riblets are also overly sauced and excessively sweet. Nothing like the baby back ribs. If these are discontinued in the Fall, I very much hope that they make a come back again next summer!

Friday, September 13, 2013

DJ's International Buffet, Carle Place, Long Island, New York

It has been about three years since I have been to D.J.'s International Buffet located in Carle Place on Long Island in New York. This primarily Asian buffet is local to me but it is a lot more expensive than other Chinese buffets in this area. We used to come here more regularly. Now, this is one of the buffets that we save for a special occasion. We had such an occasion recently and had dinner at D.J.'s International Buffet on a Monday night.

Had we come on Sunday which was the day of our special occasion it diner would have cost us $25 each. We decided to wait until Monday night when the price is $18.99 per person. Soda is an additional $2 each. It was supposed to be Coke products and came from a Coke dispenser but it did not taste like Diet Coke.

The restaurant has been well maintained. The dining room and the buffet area have been nicely kept up. There has been an effort to keep this restaurant nice. There are two dining rooms that sit behind the buffet area which can be seen from the dining room through large doorways and windows. There is also a party room in the restaurant. There is a separate section that has a bar and nightclub and when something is happening in there it can be heard in the dining room. On this Monday night there was nothing going on there. There also were not a lot of people here - and this was mid-August. There were a few large groups and a few couples at tables along with us. Monday nights are not very busy in most restaurants.

The emphasis on the food served on the buffet has become much less on International and much more focused on Asian and in particular, Chinese. Gone are the Italian dishes and American dishes. On the weeknights there are crab legs but no lobster. At one time there was lobster served on the buffet and at the grill on weekends - I do not know if that is still served. A lot of seafood is served on the buffet and there are a number of dishes that are not found at the less expensive buffets. While my wife does not eat seafood, she had no problem finding plenty of dishes to choose from that had no seafood.

There is a large sushi bar here and there are sushi chefs (two) behind the sushi bar continually replenishing dishes. The sushi here is a cut above the other Chinese/Asian buffets in this area. The fish seemed fresher and there was a broad variety of types of fish - similar in some ways to the large Japanese sushi buffets - one of which is this buffet's competition (though there you will pay a lot more for dinner).

I am not going to list everything that we found. There are six large buffet servers with hot and cold foods in addition to the sushi bar, a raw bar, a grill, a soup bar, a dessert bar and a dessert crepe station.  They still serve lobster bisque which is good. It has been thicker at times here in the long past when I have had it but the taste was just as pleasing on this visit.

I tried the raw oysters and even a raw clam on the half shell. They were very fresh, cold and had a clean taste with no sand or pieces of shell. There is also peel and eat shrimp. There is someone behind the raw bar counter who shucks and replenishes.

The grill has several trays of items such as overly sauced spare ribs, skewered grilled beef, skewered shrimp, lobster balls, and tempura. There was a sign on the grill that said, we have steaks, ask us to grill one to order for you.  I decided to wait until I had sampled some of the Asian dishes before I came back to try a steak. I never did try a steak and I will tell you why. This restaurant is open until 10:00 pm on weeknights and they were still seating people at 9:30 pm when we were finishing. At about 9:00 when I was thinking about going up for a steak, I looked from our table through to the grill and there was the grill chef with a wet broom/brush cleaning the overhead vents over the grill and then moved down to the wall right behind and over the grill. I got up to take a closer look and he had large basin of soapy water on the fry grill and was cleaning the wall with the soapy water on the broom behind the char-grill. Whatever was dripping down from the wall and the overhead vent was coming down on the grill. So much for asking for a steak cooked on that grill. Even if he would do it - I now did not want it considering what was dripping down from the greasy wall and vent onto and into the grill. The restaurant had people in it dining and it was at least an hour to closing. Maybe he wanted to get home early but what he was doing would certainly been frowned upon by the Board of Health.

I tried a variety. The steamed flounder in ginger sauce was very good. It was a huge whole flounder. The sauce was very light. I prefer the thin sauce with more taste, but the fish was good.  The bones just peeled away. Do be aware that these whole fish still have the bones in them. You scooped a section of fish out of the tray from the whole fish for yourself. There was a "King" seafood roll that was mostly crab meat though I am not sure if it was real crab or mock "Krab" and it was rolled in a batter with crumbs and fried. This was good. The stuffed crab - a section of a rock crab that was stuffed with crabmeat was good.There were steamed crab legs that could have been hotter. These were partial clusters. They could have been hotter and took mine from a recently put out tray so they were not sitting long. When a crab leg is no longer hot or warm, it is harder to open and the meat will not come out of the shell without a struggle. These were just that way. There were small crab cakes that were not real crab meat. They were too dense, chewy, and did not have the texture of real crab cakes. I tried two different beef dishes - one was Chinese Steak served from the hot buffet and the other was grilled beef on skewers served at the grill. With both dishes the beef was tough and difficult to bite and chew. No matter how good they might have been, it was not worth trying to chew them. A dish called "seafood hot pot" was a mixture of steamed seafood including shrimp and vegetables. My wife liked the shrimp from this but she likes very plain dishes. I felt that the same shrimp when I tried this were tasteless. There was a stuffed scallop shell - a large shell that was covered in melted cheese. Inside there was a sweet milky sauce with little bits of what must have been chopped scallops and undercooked corn.

While there were not many people dining in the restaurant, there were too many dishes that were drying out on the buffet. Some needed some attention from the staff and some just needed to be taken away and replaced - which, of course, they never did. After a while no one will take from them to eat in this condition. 

There was a lot of hidden sugar in the dishes that were served here. Some dishes were sweet that did not need to be and I found after the meal that my blood glucose level was much higher than this meal elsewhere should have put it - so if you need to watch your glucose level (and those of you who do know that you do) then beware of eating here.

Desserts are a slight step above the usual little squared of commercial cake. There are still little squares of cakes but they are not what you usually find. There is hard, scoop yourself ice cream. There is a large assortment of fresh fruits and also - still remaining from the old days at this buffet - creme caramel (egg custard with a thin caramel sauce). There are large signs at the dessert bar that say if you take any dessert out the door you will be charged for it at the per pound take out rate. The same sign was at the ice cream case and said if you walk out with an ice cream cone you will be charged $5 for it.

The meal was OK. The atmosphere was nice. The bill came to $50 for two including soda, tax and tip. This is a lot for a weeknight dinner at a buffet - particularly in this area. It is less than the big Japanese seafood buffet nearby. For us it is something that will be reserved for special occasions, but I have to admit that I have enjoyed much less expensive buffet meals a lot more - around here and in our travels. Perhaps on a busier night - which means a weekend night and another $6 per person coming to about $75 for the meal for two - the food may have been better tended and the selection may have included more. I have to say that many buffets push off Krab (fake crab) as real crabmeat but at this price that is really wrong. If I had a star system to rate buffets this would get a 3 out of 5, which is right in the middle - neither great or bad. They are missing a lot of what there was back in 2010 when I was last there.

D.J.'s International Buffet is located at 1100 Stewart Avenue in Garden City, New York. Their phone number is 516-227-2472. The hours of the restaurant are Lunch Monday to Friday, 11:00am to 3:00pm;Brunch Saturday and Sunday 11:30am to 3:00pm; Dinner Monday to Thursday, 4:00pm to 10:00pm, Friday to Sunday, 4:00pm to 10:00pm. There is no website.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Shady Maple at the Height of Tourist Seaon

We were at Shady Maple Smorgasbord, in East Earle, PA at the end of July on a Saturday night - and this is a Saturday night at the height of the summer tourist season in Lancaster, PA. I love Shady Maple, but I have to say that I love it much more when it is not overwhelmingly crowded with tourists.

There is usually some line and wait to get in and be seated but there were more people here on this night than there were on the Fourth of July when we had been there before this. And so many people that were here were on this night must never have been to a buffet before. And given the many places that people come from to visit this area and those that dine at Shady Maple - on this night some of the rudest people found there way here. To avoid waiting on the longest line, we opted to wait on a shorter line and sit at a booth. We very much always prefer to sit at a table no mater where we are dining. Well, the booth was fine but there was a man in the booth behind us that had to keep his arm over the back of the booth and next to me sitting there the whole time he was there (and there was absolutely nothing wrong with his arm). I am not sure how he could eat without this arm - though he did not seem to be doing much of that. Going around to the buffet servers was pretty much an exercise in avoiding those who wandered aimlessly perhaps in a daze from all the good food around them and those who had to line up cafeteria style at the end of one of the very long counters with the idea that everyone will just follow behind them as they go along tray by tray as they come. No - a buffet is not a cafeteria. You walk up to a tray, wait your turn if someone is there, and then take what you want and move to another part of the buffet and do the same.  Oh and the "plate pilers" - the ones that start filling the plate from the bottom up and keep stacking everything that they are going to eat until it is a foot high - they were all around on this night. One guy had a plate stacked high and from what I could see the foundation was potato salad and covering that for several inches was mashed potatoes. Another had a soup bowl of soup balanced on the edge next to the steak. It is really sad that people come to a buffet and forget that it is going to be there all night (at this buffet there is no doubt about that) and that you can take some and eat it like a person and come back and take another course or some more. Oh, and then there were the "touchers" - at the dessert area - who had to touch every piece of cake and pie that was out - picking the plate up, looking at it, and then putting it back.  And the guy as he is being seated who is saying loudly to the people he is with - "Do you think they will give us styrofoam containers so we can take it home with us?"

So what did I have? I have written about Shady Maple and its good food so much that it is a given that I will tell you about good things to be found at Shady Maple - at any time of the year. Well, even during tourist season this buffet shines like the brightest star. One of my favorite Shady Maple soups was on the buffet - Maryland Crab. This is a red tomato based crab soup with plenty of REAL crabmeat in it.

 I did something on this night I don't usually do. I ate mostly what was on the grills with little from the buffet tables. I have been to Shady Maple many times but I have not been there (not sure how) when they were serving their own Shady Maple made country sausage on the grill. This was wonderful and I went back several times for more - taking just one at a time. There was New York Strip Steak on the chargrill and while I prefer the Delmonico they also serve on Monday nights, I had a NY Strip. It is not my favorite cut of steak but the lady behind the grill had one rare and it was pretty good! There was also kielbasa on the grill and I have not had that before at Shady Maple. That was pretty good also but the country sausage was a winner for me on this night and that was the main focus of this meal.  I did take a few things from the buffet servers as side dishes but the only thing entree item I took from there was the cod cakes - which were not like the cod cakes that I had here on my last visit that were called Portuguese cod cakes and were made on the grill iron. Those were spicy. These were not spicy and very tasty. 

Service was excellent as always. The servers here are top notch!

You already know that I am going to say that the food and the meal itself was excellent - and it was. It was just the tourists - the buffet noobies - that I, for one, would rather avoid. Well, if you want an excellent meal in Lancaster County in the middle of the summer you have to put up with this almost everywhere - especially on a Saturday night!

Please take note - I am not mentioning prices because prices change but at Shady Maple always be aware that the  price listed is the price you pay in total at the register and it includes a pre-added tip and the local sales tax. It may look high but it already includes what would usually be added on top. There is always value here for your money and compared to other buffets and the overwhelming amount of good food you are offered here it is well worth the price!

Shady Maple is open from Monday to Saturday until 8:00 pm. They are closed on Sundays and certain holidays. Shady Maple Smorgasbord is located at 129 Toddy Drive in East Earl, PA. Take Route 23 East from Lancaster or Route 322 South to get to the restaurant. (Put the name in your GPS and it will know it.) The phone numbers are 1-800-238-7363 and 717-354-8222.  There is a website and it is listed at the side of this page.There is also a very active Facebook page!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Return to Dutch-Way Family Restaurant, Myerstown, PA

I first tried the "other" Dutch-Way buffet restaurant located in Myerstown, PA a year ago. At that time, I did not enjoy this location as much as I enjoy the Gap restaurant. We were in this area again and we decided that we would go back. We actually decided to come back to give this buffet another chance over trying the buffet at the Hollywood Casino near Hershey, PA.

We went on a Friday night which offers the same buffet features as Saturday night. Like the Dutch-Way restaurant in Gap, Pa, this restaurant is not open on Sundays and the nightly features are the same at each location.

The best way to describe this restaurant in comparison to the Gap restaurant is to say that it is an abbreviated version of the Gap location. I would say from the look of the age of the restaurant that this existed before the other. There is less buffet serving area here and as a result less food is offered - and that with some differences.

I will go through what was being served on the buffet on this night. There were four soups - and they were good ones! There was chicken noodle soup with rivels (rivels are long dumplings), shrimp bisque, creamy vegetable soup, and chili. My wife had the chicken noodle with rivels and told me that it was very good. I had the shrimp bisque and that was exceptional.

Moving to the salad bar there was lettuce and toppings but less so than at Gap and there were a few prepared salads - but nothing like the assortment at Gap. There was Ceasar dressing for the salad and on the hot buffet there is hot bacon dressing - yes, hot bacon dressing which is a local delicacy.

Should I be comparing the two restaurants like this - I am not sure how to describe my reaction to this buffet without that comparison. Let me say that had we never been to the Gap buffet, I would be saying that this is a nice little buffet - and we might go back if we were in the area again. But this is a sister buffet to one that exceeds it and it is only fair to you the reader who may come expecting as we did to find what we found in Gap to know this.

Anyway, let me go on. The hot entrees and side dishes included baked chicken, fried chicken, meatloaf in tomato sauce, ham balls, chicken bot bie, spaghetti and meatballs, baked haddock, turkey in gravy, taco macaroni, pork and kraut, and cold peel and eat shrimp that were spiced with Old Bay seasoning. At the carving station was Prime Rib and pork roast. The side dishes included pineapple filling, green beans, brown butter noodles, potato filling, beets, stewed tomatoes, macaroni and cheese, corn pie, mashed potatoes, kernel corn, scalloped potatoes with ham, Calico Beans (baked lima beans with pieces of what looked like hot dogs but could have been small pieces of smoked sausage) and with the Prime Rib at the carving station there were sauteed mushrooms and sauteed onions. 

There is an area with bread near the soup and instead of the assortment of breads as found at Dutch-Way Gap, there was just raisin bread but this was commercial raisin bread from a bag (distinctly not from a bakery even if just the attached supermarket bakery). Taking up one of the trays on the hot buffet was hot corn bread. There were also wrapped in plastic wrap muffins.

All of the food is good! There is no question about that. There were two Prime Ribs being carved - one rare and one well done. The Prime Rib was good. The meatloaf in tomato sauce was good but the tomato sauce overwhelmed the meatloaf. The ham balls were good. The chicken bot bie was good. The pork and kraut was good. My wife had the corn pie and felt that it was more corn than corn pie (really a corn casserole). We both had a good meal and there was plenty of food. It was the selection - again, compared to Gap (and we were recently at Gap a few weeks before this on a Saturday night with the same feature buffet) was lacking. The selection here - now and a year ago - was a step below, how can I put this without sounding food snobbish, in class. Maybe I should just say that the dishes here are plainer in food style. To be fair, counting the entrees on this night, there were ten and counting the entrees on the recent Saturday night at Gap there were eleven. Not really a significant difference in number but for some reason it just feels as if there is. While I can't wait to go back to Gap, I am very fine with not getting back here for another year when I may be in norther PA again.

Dessert follows suit with the same idea - similar desserts but less of them. There were half donuts (which really do make me happy - and I did have one), little danish, cookies, a few types of pie, a few slices of cake from the supermarket bakery, squares of chocolate peanut butter cake, soft serve ice cream and sundae toppings, and a few drink cups covered in plastic wrap each with a different type of cold prepared dessert pudding inside. This was odd and we could not figure why this was served this way - as if it was left from something else, rather than serving trays of puddings. But dessert space is very limited here though I don't think, for instance, that if I took the cup with the chocolate eclair pudding dessert, there was going to be another put out for someone else to take.

Service this time was much better than it had been. The server was experienced and attended to us well. The people at the buffet servers were also much more attentive than they had been a year ago and every tray was well tended and quickly replenished. 

The price of the dinner here on Friday and Saturday night is $13.99 just like at the Gap restaurant buffet. And there is a discount for seniors over 60.

As I said here a year ago - wonderful buffet but not special as its sister restaurant is. That one is a hidden gem, this one is a nice buffet.  I will go back and if you are in the area you should try it. This is way off the tourist area and this very much is a local restaurant.

The Dutch Way Family Restaurant in Myerstown, PA is located at 649 East Lincoln Avenue, Route 422 East in Myerstown, PA 17067. The phone number is 717-866-5758. There is a website for the three locations (only two are buffets) at the side of this page.My GPS put this address past its location so watch for the supermarket as you drive down Route 422 and the restaurant is on the right side of the same building as you face it from the road in the same parking lot.

An aside - I have not know what the recent feature for Monday nights is at the two Dutch-Way Family restaurants and here there was a sign. On Monday nights it is create your own pizza and a pasta station. Sounds interesting.